The decline in honeybee populations around the world signals a major environmental imbalance that could have far-reaching implications for our agricultural food supply.
Honeybees are the main pollinators of the world’s crops, and depending on your diet, they contribute to about thirty percent of the food on your plate. They pollinate crops such as potatoes, apples, oranges, almonds, avocados, strawberries, coffee, cucumbers, lemons, blueberries, and many others.
Although there are several thousand species of bees, there are seven recognized species of honeybees. These are the Italian, Russian, German, Africanized, Caucasian, Carniolan, and the Western Honey Bee, the species most commonly used in agriculture.
Honeybees are either male or female, and come in three castes; queen, worker, and drone.
The queen bee is an adult mated female bee. She is considered the mother of the hive and may have a lifespan of up to seven years. The queen bee is developed out of necessity, however, she doesn’t actually rule the hive. Her role is to keep the bee population up by laying eggs. She can lay as many as 1,500 to 2,000 eggs per day using the sperm she collects during the one and only time she gets to mate.
The worker bees are sterile female bees. They may have a lifespan of a few months. They build the honeycombs, feed the queen, care for the larvae, and forage for nectar and pollen. In most bee species, they do everything for the colony, but they do not mate and lay eggs.
Drone bees are fertile males. They may have a lifespan of a few weeks. Their sole purpose is to fertilize new queens, and they usually stay near the center of the hive. They do not have stingers, and they do not gather honey.
Bees have an interesting communication system.
Communication between bees is done using pheromones and body movements. Bees tell each other when to protect the queen, when to protect the hive, and when to relocate the hive if necessary. They use body movements, called “waggle dance talk,” to convey the location of a food source to other bees in the colony. This is done by first walking in a straight line and then wagging the body to convey the direction of a food source.
Another dance, called the “tremble dance,” is performed to encourage more worker bees to help store the nectar. While walking across the honeycomb, a bee shakes their body back and forth as they rotate their body’s axis.
What do bees do for our planet?
Bees produce honey, nectar, royal jelly, beeswax, pollen, beebread, and a glue-like substance called propolis used to protect and fill cracks within a hive. Each product is essential for the survival of the honeybee colony. Bees use honey, pollen, beebread, and nectar as food for the entire colony. Royal jelly is used to give nutrition to the larvae and queen.
Not only are these products beneficial for bees, but our civilization also finds nutritional value and medicinal uses for them as well. Honey contains nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, B6, Niacin, and Thiamin.
Bee pollen contains 20 out of 23 known amino acids and may be used to treat anemia. Beebread is pollen mixed with honey, nectar, and bee saliva. It is used for stamina.
Royal jelly, propolis, beeswax, and bee venom are used in medicine.
In recent years, there has been a significant loss in the bee population.
Researchers attribute the bee population loss to a combination of natural conditions such as infestations of parasites and fungi, combined with the stress of human activities such as genetic tampering, and the use of pesticides.
Half of the bee colonies in the U.S. are suffering from this disorder which researchers have termed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
Plants sprayed with pesticides, or grown from seeds soaked in pesticides, may be meant to control certain pests, but they have a detrimental effect on bees, causing tremors, confusion, and death. These pesticides get into everything, plants, soil, dust, and water resources. And if the bee makes it back to the hive, it can spread the chemical harming other bees in the hive.
Here are 5 easy things we can do to help save the bees.
The good news is that there is a lot we can do to contribute to the wellbeing of the bee population that so generously helps keep our planet and our bodies healthy. You needn’t be a bee-keeper to do your part; there are a number of ways you can help.
We can plant pesticide-free, bee-friendly flowers, trees and vegetables. Pollinating plants are most advantageous, but all plants help. Bees find food and a stable habitat in flowers and shrubs. Visit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife guide to learn more about plants that help nurture and protect pollinators.
Keep it chemical-free.
Whenever you can, opt for chemical-free organic pesticides or herbicides.
There are a number of ways to make your own DIY natural insecticides, but remember not all insects are bad for your garden so don’t spray indiscriminately.
Likewise, natural ingredients can make up homemade herbicides, which can help you naturally keep those invasive weeds that are wreaking havoc on your veggies and herbs.
Build your own Bee Box
Building a beehive can be a fun and productive way to contribute to sustainability. With just a few materials and DIY bee box instructions easily found on the Internet, you and the gang can do a fun summer project that will go far toward helping preserve the bee population in the U.S. and globally.
Research different honey harvesting techniques that won’t harm the bees, and support local farmers who practice those techniques.
Educate yourself and get involved.
Visit Pollinator.org to learn more about what is affecting our bee population and how you can make a difference. Get involved with your local community and share information.
Finally, communicate your concerns with Congress. By doing this, we can help the honeybees thrive once again.
Lynette Garet is a bilingual freelance writer, SEO practitioner, and web developer. A U.S. ex-pat living in Costa Rica, when not busy with online projects, she can be found hanging with her favorite “stinky boys” (the grand-littles), tending to her garden, cooking, reading, enjoying good wine, and dancing in the kitchen to music from a limitless list of genres.